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Food vouchers in Zimbabwe (Special Supplement 3)

By Ann Witteveen and Lewis Lawrence Musa, Oxfam

Children returning from miller with maize bought at the Grain Marketing Board.

The food voucher programme was designed to target the most vulnerable between December and February, the most food deficit months in Zimbabwe. The target group were chronically food insecure people who in normal years would cope by getting assistance from others, but who were not expected to get sufficient assistance from friends and relatives in a period of food shortage.

The food voucher activity was implemented by Oxfam in four districts in two provinces of Zimbabwe in December 2004 and in January 2005. Food was provided through vouchers to a total of 1,600 people (320 households (HH)). The vouchers were valued at Z$50,000 - enough to purchase 18kg maize or 10kg maize meal, 2kg beans and 0.375kg of oil. Traders were also encouraged to purchase from the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) where possible.

Problems encountered

A Chiru boy watering his vegetable garden.

A few problems arose. Low availability of certain food commodities locally delayed some of the fairs conducted in February by a few days, as traders searched for food to purchase. Some politicians took advantage of the community gatherings and addressed the community members either before or after the activity (national elections were held in Zimbabwe in March 2005). Food insecurity continued to deteriorate as the programme was being implemented. Additional households were registered for a second round of vouchers, and also households agreed for vouchers to be given to only one person/ household so that more households could be targeted. This meant that not all food needs of vulnerable households were met, thus limiting the impact of the programme.


The community based targeting method was used through the Village Relief and Rehabilitation Committees (VRRC) and local leaders to identify the beneficiaries. A high turnout of unregistered community members was observed on the day of beneficiary verification and on the actual date for implementation of the food voucher activity in some districts. The team took this to be an indication of increased food needs. There were complaints from people not registered.

Women tending to an Oxfam supported onion garden.

A series of meetings were held with community leaders, representatives and traders in order to make the traders aware of the programme and how it would be implemented. It was noted however that most of those representing traders were shop keepers (employees or relatives of the owner who did not live in the community at all, but rather in Harare) and not the owners of the shops. This slowed down the process, as decisions could not be reached immediately.

During the first voucher activity in December 2004, many traders indicated no interest in participating, citing possibilities of their monies being tied up before they could get paid while others indicated that Christmas was near and they needed their money to stock up seasonal items. In the end the traders who did take part were generally happy with the interventions. The food voucher payments usually took place within a week of the activity.

The procedure

Beneficiary identification and registration

The community VRRC, community leaders and community members identified and verified the beneficiaries according to who was most vulnerable, e.g. persons affected and/or infected by HIV/AIDS or chronically ill persons with limited ability to secure food and/or no-one to assist them.

The food distribution manager and the community facilitators (both Oxfam GB staff) monitored the process of targeting to ensure transparency and fairness. The VRRCs called an open village meeting where the identified beneficiary names were called out, discussed and agreed upon. The identified beneficiaries were registered using Oxfam GB designed registration forms. The registration list was also used by community facilitators, community leaders and VRRC members to conduct follow up visits.

Centre and food trader identification

The community facilitators, under the guidance of the food distribution manager and livelihoods manager, discussed possible venues/traders for the food vouchers with the community leaders, VRRC, and beneficiaries.

Identified criteria included clean with no rodents, construction in good condition for food storage and protection from rain and rodents. In addition, there were certain requirements of the trader, e.g. should be able to read and write, have good record keeping skills, etc.

The stock of food in the identified traders shop was recorded by the community faciltiators and food distribution manager prior to procurement by beneficiaries. This information was vital in determining if the beneficiaries procured food or other items.

Food purchase by beneficiaries

A day was set aside after the registration of beneficiaries in which they were supplied with the food vouchers. One week was given to procure food. In practice, vouchers and food were exchanged in a day. The trader was paid by Oxfam GB based on the total value of food vouchers acquired from beneficiaries.

Food Voucher Activity Report writing

The community facilitators documented each step and compiled a report using the standardised report format while attaching all the necessary documents. Findings were discussed with other Oxfam GB managers and changes to the implementation were recommended.

Post Distribution Monitoring (PDM)

Monitoring was conducted by the community facilitators and the food distribution manager two to three weeks after the food voucher activity. Data were collected from community members and VRRCs.

After paying vendors, staff from the finance department based in Harare visited a few days after the fair. This ensured the accounts and payments were rigorously monitored.

Lessons learnt

Food vouchers are appropriate when food is identified by the community to be their priority need and there is potential for food provision through local traders. Beneficiaries preferred food vouchers to food distribution and traders valued the intervention. Given the time it takes to plan food voucher programmes, it is necessary to base beneficiary numbers on projections of needs at the time of intervention, rather than needs at the time of planning the intervention. When food sources are distant from the emergency affected area, traders should be given sufficient time to source and stock food.

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Reference this page

Ann Witteveen and Lewis Lawrence Musa (). Food vouchers in Zimbabwe (Special Supplement 3). Supplement 3: From food crisis to fair trade, March 2006. p42.



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